9.3 – Success in Clinics and Simulations


Success in Clinics and Simulations

The final type of law school class I want to talk about is a clinic or a simulation class. These are very similar although they're a little different in key ways.


Real legal work on behalf of real-life client under instructor

A clinic is a law school class where you will actually do real legal work on behalf of a real-life client under supervision of your instructor, who will be a practicing lawyer in that jurisdiction. For example, in a criminal defense clinic, you as a law student, and even though you have not yet been admitted to the bar, you will be allowed to represent that client, may be allowed to go into court and actually make arguments on behalf of that client, again, under supervision, but you're actually going to be allowed to stand up and talk in court.


Mock trial where no real client is involved

Whereas a simulation is a class where you do pretend lawyering. You might do a mock trial or something like that. You're not actually representing a client, but nonetheless, you're trying to develop the skills that you would actually use in a real practice setting. How you're going to participate in these classes, I think, is going to look pretty similar because in both situations, you're really doing work. You're going to be evaluated by someone who is an experienced lawyer, who's going to be looking at the legal work you're doing and assessing it for how promising it is, how good it is, how much it looks like the kinds of legal work we really want you to do as a practicing lawyer.

Taking Responsibility for Clinic Work

Important to take it seriously as real stakes are involved

But a clinic has the additional responsibility that the work you're doing is not really just for you. It actually is going to meaningfully affect some other person or some other entity's existence. You need to take it even more seriously because it's not just your grade that is at stake. There's a whole range of these types of classes. You could do criminal prosecution, you could do criminal defense, you could do appeals, you could do trials. You could write contracts for businesses that are trying to get formed. You could help nonprofits that are trying to get off the ground, really think about almost any kind of law. There are environmental law clinics. There's probably some clinic, at least at some law school somewhere in the country, where students are doing that, or at least some simulation class where students are learning the skills involved in doing that kind of law, contract drafting, what have you. For a class like that, what you want to do first is recognize that in every different area of practice, there are different norms about what the work looks like.

Intellectual property contract looks a lot different than an appellate brief. If you're taking an intellectual property clinic or simulation, you're going to want to really learn what are the norms of how these contracts are written. What are examples of successful ones? How can I try to write something that really looks like what lawyers in this area produce? Ideally, your instructor will give you examples of that. Your instructors will say, "Here's a bunch of examples of this kind of work," and it may not be written work. It may be if you're taking a trial advocacy class, you'll want to figure out, you know, what is an example of doing really good courtroom lawyering? Maybe your instructor will give you videos of particularly successful lawyers at work. You're going to want to, again, try to emulate. A huge part of being a successful lawyer is looking around, seeing who's doing it well, and just imitating what they do, figuring out what works, and trying to take on those skills and really just ape that a little bit, mimic that a little bit.

Look at clinic work as work deliverable in job setting

You also want to pay close attention to the fact that you are working for a particular person who might have their own idiosyncratic views about how good legal work looks in their particular corner of the law. Someone who writes briefs, and they say, "I really don't like briefs that have this section at the beginning," or "I really like contracts that are formatted in this way." If that's what your supervisor thinks is the way to do it, learn that and do it exactly that way because later in your career, when you're a lawyer, when you're a partner or you're employed as a government lawyer, you can make your own choices. You can figure out what makes sense to you, but if your supervisor says, "This is the way I want this to be done," do that. Think of it really as if you are in a job setting. This is like a partner that you're working for and you're an associate, and you want to be successful and you want this person to want to promote you to partner or what have you.

You really want to just give them the work product that they think looks really good. Think about, they're going to supervise your work if it's a real clinic and they're going to edit it if they're writing that they're going to submit to an actual court, but the more you can give that person something that they think requires little or no work before they can get it ready and submit it, the better. Another thing to really try to do, I think, is to be proactive. Don't just wait for your supervisor. This is particularly true in a real clinical setting, but I think this would apply to a simulation as well. Don't just wait to be told exactly what to do. Spot issues that maybe a supervisor hasn't even noticed.

If you see something that could be helpful, say, "I actually went ahead. I realized that there was this other issue. You didn't ask me to research this, but I spent an extra hour and I found some cases about this other issue in the case. I'm just going to give this to you because I thought it might be helpful." That's awesome. Any practicing lawyer who has supervised other attorneys can tell you that having someone who just goes out of their way to get on top of things, says, "I made a calendar. I figured out when all the deadlines are because I know that we were going to have to deal with that." That's just really, really helpful. It shows someone who really takes it seriously, takes responsibility, and is trying to really be accountable and trying to really be a good team member, rather than someone whose attitude is just, "Well, how can I do the minimum? I'll do exactly what you tell me to do, but that's it. As soon as I've done that, I'm just going to check out and everything else is your problem."

Always keep client instructions.

Just keep in mind your clinical instructors, if they're representing real clients, they may have a lot of demands on them. They may have a bunch of cases in motion, and the more you can do to take things off of their plates, the better, and they're really going to appreciate that and you're going to stand out as a particularly promising future lawyer. I think that to the extent you're being graded, that is likely to get you a better grade than you would otherwise. The final thing I'd remind you is if it's a clinical class and not a simulation, really do keep in mind that you have an actual client, that there is someone whose interests are really at stake here.

If you don't take this seriously, you could actually materially harm them. That might be in some situations, maybe you do a little bit of work after the class formally ends, even though it doesn't affect your grade, because you really want to help this client. I think that is important. I think you should recognize that this is really the first step towards actually being a lawyer that carries with it some very significant obligations. If you can try to remind yourself that this isn't just a make-believe thing we're doing, this is actually real life with real consequences, I think you're going to take it more seriously and I think you're going to do higher quality work throughout.

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